‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’^

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David A
Posts: 240
Joined: Fri Jul 11, 2008 3:52 pm
Location: Scotland

‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’^

Post by David A » Tue Aug 04, 2009 1:06 am

It was 2005 when we last had a kayaking trip to North Uist. Once again we made the long car journey north towards the islands with so much promise, not only in terms of wonderful sea kayaking, but wildlife, scenery, culture and a relatively pristine environment. The journey passed quickly and soon Crianlarich, Glen Coe, Fort William, Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge were distant memories. We had lunch on the east coast of Skye accompanied by an otter, foraging not far from us in and along the seaweed, like flakes of snow falling, gannets dived for fish and in the background the Island of Scalpay. Our journey continued towards Uig to board the 6pm Calmac ferry to Lochmaddy (Loch nam Madadh) on North Uist (Uibhist a Tuath). The sail over the Minch was slightly lumpy at times. Again, time passed quickly as we observed terns, puffins, guillemots, gannets, shearwaters, fulmars, black back gulls and a few skuas fishing the tidal races on this stretch of sea.

Hopefully, without sounding too philosophical, a ferry journey no matter how short, always generates the feeling that you are not only leaving behind the mainland, but breaking the umbilical cord to the responsibilities of family, pressures and stress of everyday work and financial commitments. As we neared Lochmaddy the worries, pressure and stress had rolled away, like sea spray rolling off a puffins back. Yes, it does sound a bit ‘too philosophical’, but I am leaving it in.

The weather was always going to be problematic on this trip. The forecast suggested that there would with strong winds and squalls from the S,SW,SE, which meant that the direction of the rain would be vertical, horizontal and diagonal!! At moments we got rain in all directions at the one time!!
Lochmaddy welcomed us (27/07/09) with dark clouds and rain. After leaving the ferry we travelled north of Lochmaddy found a dirt track off the single track road and set up camp on the moor away from civilisation, had a brew up and watched a short eared owl hunting across the moor. Plan ‘A’ would be decided in the morning after listening to the Stornoway Coastguard forecast.

At 10.10am the silence of the VHF was broken as a soothing, warm and attractive female voice with a Gaelic accent directed us to the appropriate channel. We listened to her ‘WEATHUR’ forecast which was ‘POOUR’. Boys being boys, we estimated that from her voice she was island girl, belonging to Harris/Lewis, between the ages of 23-30, dark hair, blue eyes, slim, very attractive and single. We christened her ‘Maria’, and from then on we checked out every Coastguard broadcast to hear her warm voice. After our first encounter with Maria we fought over the VHF, blood on both sides was drawn. However, the younger man won.

After maria had signed off, plan ‘A’ (28/07/09) was to book into the Uist Outdoor Centre as the ‘WEATHUR’ was to be very POOUR and the already blustery winds were to increase. Uist Outdoor Centre is a haven during bad ‘WEATHUR’ or a good base for kayaking, and we have always received 5star hospitality from the owner: Niall Johnson and his staff. Checkout link:
http://www.uistoutdoorcentre.co.uk/inde ... e&Itemid=1.
That evening the winds and squalls increased and for a short time the rain turned to hail followed by thunder and lightning, which seemed to be hanging over Harris or Lewis direction. The conversation the next morning was of the mini tornado that hit Stornoway damaging home and cars (Gods revenge on Stornoway for Calmac running the Sunday ferry).

The great thing about places like Niall’s outdoor centre is the people and characters you meet. We met many people from foreign lands: English, also our EU brothers and sisters from France and Germany. All seemed to mix well and enjoyed the banter and relaxed in the warm and friendly atmosphere of the centre. It was only a matter of time before I would finally meet someone from this forum: Helen M, who was up in Uist with her husband Dave (new nickname also given to him, Whisky George) and London Tony. Unfortunately we missed meeting Mike B by one day, who, we understand had a run of bad luck: lost or broke a crown and also broke a tent pole. I think we will also give Mike B a nickname: Lucky B.

29/07/09, we packed the kayaks and headed into the Lochmaddy fjard. According to Niall Johnson Lochmaddy is the finest example of such a geological formation. A link: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/pdf/gcrdb/GCRsiteaccount2030.pdf. The loch is a large shallow inter-tidal basin of inlets, sand and mud flats and is littered with numerous skerries and islands: a haven for wildlife. Wildlife observed: red deer stag on one of the small islands, I presume it swam across from the mainland; countless seals and one white pelted seal pup at the north end of the loch; large flocks of curlews and lapwings, geese, countless herons, flying male eider ducks with their beautiful white and black patches a very elegant bird when in flight; many waders, some which I could not recognise and for me perhaps the highlight of our trip was the sea eagle which passed fairly low over our camp site a few times being harried by numerous gulls which only highlighted the size of these magnificent birds. Latter in the evening we spotted a parcel of hinds on the mainland. Even with the fierce squalls I was left in no doubt that Lochmaddy is a very special place, which I will explored further in the future. At the top end of the loch there is a portage, we succeeded in doing this quickly and set up camp for the night. The kind offer by a Lochmaddy family stacking peat to help ourselves to their peat was never acted upon due to the fact that we went trout fishing and latter had an early night.

30 and 31/07/09, we had a leisurely breakfast and waited for the early afternoon neap tide to flood across the mud flats and around Rubha Dubh. We prayed the neap tide would reach where we had prepared to launch, the only other alternative would be to plough out through the mud flats or return by the portage and south through Lochmaddy. Due to meticulous calculations and planning (coded for sheer luck) we made the launch from the planned area minus a few yards. We were afloat, we had sunshine, and we had a few hours before the SW winds increased. However, as always the squalls harassed us as we paddled passed Rubha Dubh, Hestam, through Bagh Teileam, around Aird Thormaid towards our final destination: Loch nam Ban and possibly (probably due to Maria’s worsening forecast of POOUR WEATHUR) the escape route by road back to Lochmaddy. At least we had the opportunity to be on the water that day; even if it was only a short paddle.

We erected the tents with the bell ends facing into the increasing SW wind. Some scraps of wood were found later in the evening and we sat by a fire till 11.30pm. The wind did increase during the night accompanied by rain. By morning the wind had swung round to the SE as predicted. We changed the directions of the tents to face into the predicted gale force 8 winds and changed into waterproofs before walking over the Otternish causeway that joins North Uist and the Island of Berneray. As we made our way over the causeway the wind and sea increased in strength and height the rocks buffeting the wind over the causeway and landing creating rose like squall patterns on the lee ward side of the road before racing away towards Berneray. As we continued the walk we checked out the passage under the causeway for otters and kayakers! The ferry waiting area at the north end of the causeway gave us shelter from the elements. For future reference there is a fresh water tap near this building. Also after 5 more minutes walking we treated ourselves to a meal in a small but friendly tearoom/restaurant/shop, for a reward and in preparation for the incoming gale and our voluntary solitary confinement in the tents.

By the time we retraced our steps the wind was blowing even stronger, rain fell in the swirling wind, We were pleasantly surprised that the tents were still standing and not shredded. Preparations were made for tent life: water, food, book, chocolate goodies, stove and tea making provisions. Both of us entered our tents about 1-30/2-00pm and we did not emerge till the next morning. I don’t think that the full blown force8 gale materialised for the period perceived. However, I would suggest that it did hit the force 8 mark on occasional gusts. Rain, sometimes very heavy, accompanied the winds throughout the afternoon, evening and night. Anyway, I was warm, cosy and dry throughout the time confined in the tent, drank lashings of tea, read and experienced the worst ‘WEATHUR’ ever when camping. Isn’t sea kayaking just fantastic.

01/08/09, again after listening to the POOUR WEATHUR forecast we again decided that ‘plan A’ would be to walk, hitch or attempt to catch the bus back to lochmaddy and get the car, if any vacancies- book back into Uist Outdoor Centre, book the ferry for the 02/08/09, drive back and pick up the kayaks and kit, back to our haven, shower, cook, eat, relax and enjoy our last evening on North Uist ,reflecting on the trip. Luckily for us ‘plan A’ was carried out with military precision. It was with regret that we had to leave the island the next day. I am already looking forward to next year, when I am sure that we will return and that the weather gods will be looking favourably down upon us! Thanks to everyone who helped to make this trip memorable. A special thanks from Jim and myself to Niall and the Stornoway Coastguard/ Maria. The biggest thanks must go to Uibhist a Tuath herself.

If you have not falling asleep yet, then there are some pics below. The pics are more about the colour, mood and character of North Uist rather than just paddling pics. Hope you enjoy.

Leaving Uig
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The dark clouds and rain welcome us to North Uist.
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Big skys on North Uist.
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Just one of the many beaches.
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The portage at the head of Lochmaddy.
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Our campsite after the portage.
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Some pics from the peat moors.
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When the sun came out the colours blazed.
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For some the environment is too harsh.
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The ferry arrives for our departure.
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A final pic of Lochmaddy before leaving.
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The wash from the ferry.
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Skye .
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Skerry Packer
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Location: Lanarkshire Scotland

Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Skerry Packer » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:46 am

Enjoyed reading your post. I spent the same week wild camping in the Arisaig area,returned home on 2nd July with a trashed Equinox tent. Paddling mate went for a kip while I went fishing and he woke to the sound of a breaking pole which in turn ripped through the flysheet. Tension bands were fitted on front poles but I suspect one on the rear pole had worked loose causing the problem.
Interesting to read about Maria though, we listened to her broadcasts every night and placed her age as being in her mid 50s but maybe the fantasies of two over 60s paddlers had something to do with that. Lovely voice and look forward to hearing her again sometime.
Gerry.
Per Nostra Opera

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MikeB
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by MikeB » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:57 am

No, her name is Heather and she's probably in her very late 30's to early 40's.

Mike.

David Reekie
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by David Reekie » Tue Aug 04, 2009 10:05 am

Great trip report, thank you.

David A
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Location: Scotland

Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by David A » Tue Aug 04, 2009 10:19 am

Skerry Packer wrote:Interesting to read about Maria though, we listened to her broadcasts every night and placed her age as being in her mid 50s
MikeB wrote:No, her name is Heather and she's probably in her very late 30's to early 40's.
There were two female coastguard broadcast presenters, on reflection one could have been in her 50s. However, Maria, was the younger lass. I am sure she is. You do relies that I don’t really want to find out the truth on this topic.

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Helen M
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Helen M » Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:37 pm

Hiya Dave - have tried to post piccies a few times but they ended up too big!

Great to meet you and Jim - brill photos.

Here's a couple of our first weeks paddling on Barra.

Vattersay Job Creation Scheme - What a great location!

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Sandray
Image

H - x
Last edited by Helen M on Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Helen M
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Location: Dumfries, SW Scotland

Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Helen M » Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:40 pm

OK - I give up - any help gratefully appreciated re imagshak! What setting should I use - am sure I used thumbnail for the first one!

H - x

Owen
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Owen » Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:15 pm

Helen,

What photo editing software do you have?

I use Photoshop Elements. Whatever your using you need to make a copy of your photo, then resize the copy to 600 pixcels wide. If you put that into imageshack it should just fit onto the page.

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Helen M
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Helen M » Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:32 pm

Owen wrote:Helen,

What photo editing software do you have?

I use Photoshop Elements. Whatever your using you need to make a copy of your photo, then resize the copy to 600 pixcels wide. If you put that into imageshack it should just fit onto the page.
Ta Owen - will experiment!

H - x

Owen
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Owen » Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:59 pm

Image

Nice.

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jet
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by jet » Fri Aug 14, 2009 8:57 am

Good picture Helen

Carlsberg don't make launch sites, but if they did......

Justin

David A
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Location: Scotland

Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by David A » Fri Aug 14, 2009 9:31 pm

Hi, Helen, it’s good to hear from you again. If you are with Photobucket you can resize your pics: Just below the ‘Upload Images and Video window’ there is a pic size menu, click this to 640x480 before you copy and paste the pic IMG Code. I am looking forward to seeing your pics.

Gododdin
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Re: ‘North Uist, Squalls, Gales and Tornados’

Post by Gododdin » Sat Aug 15, 2009 12:37 pm

Hi David - I enjoyed reading this very much (as a resident of North Uist!). If you are coming up again next year PM me and maybe we could meet up. There is a fairly new local club - North Uist Canoe Club - and Niall J has been very helpful and supportive in setting it up. I'm new to the game and still at the 'falling in a lot' stage but enjoying every minute of it! Hopefully by next year I will have improved somewhat. Now if only I could crack this 'rolling' business..... :-)

Cheers

Rhod

p.s. I'm a keen photographer and I really liked some of your pics - you have a good eye!

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